Emirati driver Amna Al Qubaisi learning to 'enjoy every race' after signing Red Bull deal

Amna tells The National about her preparations for new season at F1 Academy, the pressures of having an iconic team's livery on her car, and how she has learned to fix her mistakes

Emirati race driving sisters joins Red Bull F1 Academy

Emirati race driving sisters joins Red Bull F1 Academy
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Amna Al Qubaisi spent eight months holding onto a huge secret: she and her sister Hamda had signed a deal with the newly formed Red Bull Academy Programme that would see Amna drive for Visa Cash App RB (formerly AlphaTauri) and Hamda drive for Red Bull Racing in the 2024 season of F1 Academy.

The Emirati sisters put pen to paper with Red Bull last June but the announcement was only officially made four weeks ago.

As was the case last season, the duo will compete for MP Motorsport in F1 Academy but Amna will run the Visa Cash App RB livery, while Hamda will run Red Bull Racings, on their respective cars.

“I’m very happy and super proud of where I came from. I never expected this,” Amna told The National on the sidelines of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where she enjoyed a quick hit with French player Gael Monfils.

“We signed with Red Bull in June [2023] and keeping that secret in, I felt like I had some kind of pressure because I needed to prove something to them, that I was valuable, that I did deserve to sign with them.

“But then as a few races went on, I started to take a step back and just relax and be like, ‘Listen, nobody knows it yet, just relax and just enjoy every race and every lap’.”

The first Arab woman to win a single-seater race, Amna claimed P6 in the F1 Academy championship last season, with two first-place finishes in Spielberg and Barcelona.

“I’m really happy I created this pathway for other women in the Middle East who would think that this is just a dream. But seeing this come true they will have a dream to look up to as well,” said the 23 year old.

Amna attended the Visa Cash App RB official launch in Las Vegas last month alongside the team’s Formula One drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda.

It was a lavish affair during which the Italian team unveiled their new car, and where attendees were treated to a special performance by Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar.

“Being in Las Vegas was an amazing experience. It was really nice because I got to meet everyone; the CEO of Hugo [the team’s apparel partner], I got to meet the team principals of Visa Cash App RB, I met the team, I met Yuki, who is really nice, we’re similar at age and height as well. And meeting Daniel as well, he was very sweet, very kind,” said Amna.

“Being a part of the launch, being part of something like that was a huge boost for me, especially in terms of exposure. I had the opportunity to get a few companies interested to sponsor me and it was really helpful for me to take it to the next level next year.”

Being part of the launch event didn’t just provide exposure for Amna, it also gave her the chance to mingle with two experienced F1 drivers in Ricciardo and Tsunoda, who shared some valuable advice.

“I remember they were telling me, ‘Don’t be stressed when there’s a Red Bull logo on the car, don’t overdrive it, don’t feel like you have to prove something to them, just enjoy your race and pretend your car is a white livery, there’s nothing on it, and just drive’,” Amna said.

“And they’re right actually. Because when I would think, ‘Oh I have a Red Bull logo livery, I need to prove myself and I need to show them that I’m at the top, at the front of the grid’, it actually gave me the opposite reaction. So when I just thought that way, it was way better.”

The second season of F1 Academy kicks off in Jeddah the weekend of March 7. The female-only racing championship will include seven stops in total, with races also staged in Miami, Barcelona, Zandvoort, Singapore, and Qatar, before closing out the campaign in Abu Dhabi, alongside the Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit in December.

Amna is hoping to take a step forward in season two, armed with knowledge and experience from her 2023 exploits and P6 finish. She is open about where she feels she fell short, holding herself accountable as she looks ahead.

“What I learnt from season one was to fix everything when I had the time to do it. Last year I used to just take my time, I would be like, I’ll do it next race, next race. And I wouldn’t really fix those mistakes, I would just redo them over and over again,” she said.

“So this season I’ve kind of overcome that habit, I made sure I fixed my issues and stuck to those good habits; eating well, sleeping early, training as well, training harder than last year.

“Last year I was just procrastinating the entire time, I wasn’t taking my training very seriously and it did affect me as a driver when it came to long race weekends. So I definitely took that in for this year and it actually helped me become a much better racing driver.”

Despite her packed schedule as she prepares for the new season, Amna found time to stop by the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, and spent some time on court with Monfils.

Amna was first introduced to the sport last year when she met two-time Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka and drove her around Dubai, showing her some of the landmarks.

She has been hooked to tennis since.

“I started watching the tournaments because of her and seeing her become No 1 in the world, I was so proud of her and I was like super excited, so that’s what I started watching,” said Amna.

“There are a lot of similarities between both sports, like the reaction in tennis, as well as in racing, it’s really important to be very reactive. I can see also they have reference when it comes to angles, the way they hold their racquets, and it’s the same in racing, we have reference points when it comes to turning in a certain corner, the angle you need to put it in.

“The endurance as well, they also have to go into different weather conditions, whether it’s hot, rainy, they have to play within that certain condition, it’s the same in racing. So it’s very interesting to see the similarities in both sports.”

Following her brief visit to the tennis, Amna flew straight to Jeddah, where she joined fellow F1 Academy drivers to test out the city’s street circuit ahead of the season opener next weekend.

“My goal for this year is just to be as close as I can to the top drivers. We have really good drivers who have beaten the guys in mixed categories. So for sure the goal is to be as close as I can to the pace. And for sure we’d love to win a lot of races; so that’s 100 per cent the goal,” she added.

Updated: March 01, 2024, 10:26 AM